At AllThingsNature, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What Is a Black Wolf?

A. Delgado
A. Delgado

A black wolf is a member of the Canis lupus, or gray wolf, species. Gray wolves typically have gray or white fur, but some in North America have inherited black fur due to matings between wolves and dogs with black coats that have taken place for thousands of years. The black coat coloring for wolves has been a beneficial development for those in certain habitats. Aside from their fur color, black wolves share the same physical characteristics as gray or white wolves.

Biologists have recently discovered that black wolves are not a separate species or a subspecies of Canis lupus in North America. Their coloring evolved over the years from a genetic mutation as wild wolves bred with black dogs. Although scientists haven't determined exactly when this change took place, they believe it originally started with dogs that belonged to the first humans to set foot in North America roughly 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.


Another notable discovery was that the black wolf only developed from domestic dogs in North America. Gray wolves in Europe and Asia have not shown this same genetic transfer. They remain predominantly gray or white, while black wolves have become more common in North America.

Black wolves are mainly found in woodland habitats, while wolves with lighter fur tend to live in the open tundra or arctic regions of northern Canada. Having darker colored fur allows the black wolf to blend in with its surroundings better in order to hide or hunt. Scientists believe that the growing population of black wolves could be related to the fact that icy or snowy regions are becoming more scarce. Another possible benefit of wolves inheriting black fur is that the gene that causes this might be linked to an increased ability to fight infections.

The black wolf might have gained an advantage or two over gray and white wolves, but the mutation hasn't affected their size. Adult black wolves have the same measurements as other members of Canis lupus. They typically weigh between 50 to 176 pounds (23 to 80 kg) and measure between 34 to 51 inches (87 to 130 cm) in length. Like their lighter colored kin, black wolves have a thick layer of underfur that helps keep them warm in frigid temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a black wolf?

A black wolf is a melanistic variant of the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Melanism is a genetic mutation that results in an excess production of melanin, the pigment responsible for dark coloration in the fur. Black wolves are not a separate species but are gray wolves with this distinctive coloration due to a heritable mutation.

How common are black wolves in the wild?

Black wolves are less common than their gray or white counterparts. However, in certain populations, such as in North America's Yellowstone National Park, they can be quite prevalent. According to research, the gene for black fur was historically passed down from domestic dogs to wolves through wolf-dog hybridization thousands of years ago.

Do black wolves have different behaviors than other wolves?

Black wolves exhibit the same behaviors as other wolves. Their coloration does not influence their behavior. Wolves are social animals that live in packs, hunt together, and communicate through a variety of vocalizations, body postures, and scents. All wolves, regardless of color, share these behavioral traits.

Are black wolves the result of interbreeding with domestic dogs?

The gene for black fur in wolves is indeed linked to past interbreeding with domestic dogs, but today's black wolves are not direct hybrids. Instead, they carry the genetic legacy of this historical mixing. The mutation responsible for black fur is dominant, meaning it can be passed on even if only one parent carries the gene.

Is the black wolf's coloration advantageous for its survival?

The black wolf's coloration may offer some advantages. For instance, a study suggests that black fur provides a stronger immune response to certain infections, which could be beneficial for survival. Additionally, in forested or darker environments, their dark coat might provide better camouflage than lighter fur.

Can black wolves be found outside of North America?

Yes, black wolves can be found outside of North America, although they are less common. Melanism is a genetic trait that can occur in any gray wolf population. However, the frequency of black wolves is higher in North American populations due to the historical gene flow from domestic dogs to wolves in this region.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Frog